Preview: Divinity: Original Sin Looks to Topple the Competition

I had never really followed the Divinity series or was even aware of Larian Studios, and yet when I heard about their Kickstarter campaign, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. There were promises of an epic RPG with cooperative multiplayer, significant choices and consequences, and an emphasis on exploration and experimentation through a comprehensive crafting system and unique character development. It was everything I could hope for in an RPG and more, and these lofty promises made on Kickstarter have started to manifest themselves into an actual playable experience. The alpha for Divinity: Original Sin was released recently, and we here at Hardcore Gamer were lucky enough to get our hands on it. It is obviously not complete yet and is still a bit rough around the edges, but there is a lot to be excited about even now.

The game opens and you are tasked with solving the murder of an important official, and also to discover what you can of an illegal magic that seems to have made its way back to the lands. Luckily, you are joined by the devilishly good looking companion of opposite gender, and the two of you set out from a beach with your orders in tow. You soon make your way to the town of Cyseal, along the way finding out things are worse than you initially thought. The city is beset by sieges of the walking dead and orcs for reasons unknown to the citizens, and you will get the chance to repel one of the latest assaults. The current alpha packs around 15 to 20 hours worth of content, but what is here hints at the start of an epic fantasy adventure with all the twists and turns you can hope for.

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The story is fun to follow, but what is even more fun is deciding exactly how you decide to get there. The game boasts an impressive dialogue system that lets you decide how to proceed at certain points. It isn’t just that the dialogue itself is well written and humorous that makes it impressive, but the fact that at certain points you’ll run into a decision that must be made that calls upon the whole party for input. When soldiers demand you follow them so they can verify who you are, will you comply or call them drunken louts? And, more importantly, how will the second player you are with feel about your decision? As there’s potential for multiplayer, whoever you are playing with will have their own voice and the two of you will have options of how to argue your point home, using either intimidation or charm or logic. Whoever wins the argument (based partly on the traits of your characters) will decide how the confrontation goes down. You can easily play through the game in single player as well, although then these decision points have a bit less of an impact unless you really like arguing with yourself or get into playing two different roles at the same time.

What is truly remarkable about the game is just how much freedom it gives you. You are truly set loose upon this big world with seemingly numerous ways to tackle any given problem. The first city you get to, Cyseal, is large and demands to be explored, and in fact needs to be if you are to solve the murder that serves as your initial quest. I spent hours scouring the city, exploring and digging through chests while also talking to NPCs, and this is the kind of RPG that explorers should love, so long as they have the free time. Even within the framework of the actual story, the amount of options available on how to proceed is genuinely impressive. While searching for clues on your first mission, an area that you very much want to explore is blocked by a locked door. You can either pick the pocket of the man holding the key if you’re feeling naughty, or just kill the man outright and swipe the key from him corpse if you’re feeling extra super naughty. Or you can forgo that man all together and use magic to get through the door or teleport to the other side. This is a game that is just brimming with possibilities and one that takes actual role playing into serious consideration.

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The battle system is very well thought out and adds some unique concepts to a fairly standard turn based approach. You are given a certain amount of action points during each of your turns that can be used on movement or attacks, and by positioning yourself well and working in tandem with your partner you can turn the tide of battle in your favor even if you appear outgunned. Flee and goad your adversaries into following you into a river, and then use lightning magic to gain an elemental bonus on your unsuspecting foes. Or perhaps freeze a patch of ground and watch your opponent slip and stun themselves, then when they are recovering from the first attack, unleash a barrage of fire magic to deal damage and also melt the ice. The melting ice turns to water, leaving your foe wet and susceptible to a lightning based magic attack. There are just so many different clever ways to implement what starts out looking like a simple battle system, whether it be luring one group of enemies to another or wielding the right magic at the right time. It is clever yet simple and a great deal of fun, and I was having a blast just figuring out all the different things I could do.

I did notice a few hiccups during my time with the game, but without being fully aware of what will be improved upon in the final version it makes it hard to know exactly what to complain about. Something I did notice is the game doesn’t always give a great indication of what it wants you to do. On the one hand, there is something to be said about encouraging exploration and experimentation, both of which this game definitely does. Unfortunately, sometimes at least a little nudge in the right direction would be nice so I could at least have an educated guess. Early on, a ship is set ablaze and everyone turns to you to put it out. So I checked my move list looking for some water magic, which I did not happen to have. Then I moved through my inventory looking for some item to help. My search turned up fruitless, and all I found was a fireball scroll. I know they suggest you fight fire with fire, but for some reason I did not think shooting fireballs at an already burning ship would endear me much in the hearts and minds of the townfolks that were begging me to put it out. I then searched the docks looking for something I could use, only to get a message of “hey, that ship sank” midway through my search. I’d like to apologize to the good sailors the the S.S. Inferno for my failure, although it would’ve been nice if the game did something other than shrug its shoulders and tell me to figure it out.

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Of course, things like this are just the cost of providing more freedom in a game, and inevitably you will run into issues. Several times I ran into enemies that absolutely wiped me out because my exploration got the better of me and I went beyond where I should’ve and found some higher level baddies. How much this sort of stuff bothers you is likely going to be based on how much direction you like in your games and should really only frustrate those hoping for a more linear experience. Beyond this, most of the problems I noticed were mostly technical and fairly minor. The game certainly doesn’t look very impressive and the lack of any voiced characters or memorable background music leaves this game looking and sounding like it came out about a decade ago. The movement speed of the characters is also somewhat plodding and of course like an alpha version of a game you will run into bugs and glitches along the way. It is hard to fault the game too much for these though, as for an alpha this is one of the more stable builds I’ve played.

Minor complaints aside, what is present here in this early build is extremely promising. Perhaps what is most promising is that as good as this looks this early in the development cycle, it is missing some of the things I was most excited about. The multiplayer is still a little sketchy, and not only did I have a hard time connecting with other people but there doesn’t seem to be enough of a player base installed just yet to get into a game whenever you want. By the time the final version of the game launches, however, Divinity: Original Sin looks to provide a fairly unique multiplayer experience that straddles the line between what you expect from a more traditional RPG and a MMORPG experience.

Both you and your partner will be put in control of a hero, and then from there the game really lets you do whatever you want. The party dialogue system, which in single player feels a bit schizophrenic, will take a new life as you will have to decide and argue with your partner exactly what to do in a certain situation. It adds an extra little bit of roleplaying to the experience, and promises that individual choices end up with long lasting effects, including changing a character’s personal traits and the relationship between the party members. Of course, your partner might not even be around at the time, as he or she can go off to take place in his or her own private conversations and engage in their own battles completely away from you. There are just so many different ways to play that taking in to account for personal styles that no two games are likely to unfold exactly the same way.

What I might be most excited about isn’t even really the game itself, but the RPG editor they promise to release with the final copy of the game. The editor will put into your hands a very powerful creation tool that will allow gamers to to shape their own single player and multiplayer adventures. The exact parameters and specifics of the editor haven’t been released yet, but they  promise the tools to to play with world building, an item and equipment editor, a character editor, and tools to script the story and edit the dialogue. There is everything here a creative person needs to shape an epic adventure . For years, I’ve seen aspiring amateurs craft excellent levels in platformers when the tools were given to them, and I hope a dedicated community forms to use these tools to make an endless number of player created content. I can’t even remember the last game to provide an editor like this in an RPG, and with the right player base we could be gifted with nearly endless content (provided you’re willing to wallow through the muck that is released as well).

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There is still a while to go before Divinity: Original Sin sees a full release date, but this is a game that all RPG fans should be excited for. The part I’ve seen seems to be ramping up for an epic quest, and one that begs you to experience it as you see fit. There is a living, breathing world here to explore. Be the hero and complete every quest along the way or burn it all to the ground. With so many ways to play and progress, it really puts the RP in RPG. There are numerous big named titles in the genre releasing in the next year, but this might be the RPG to top them all.